Inspired by Michelle’s blog post last week on gender bias I decided to tackle the question of whether women and men write differently and, if so, can authors write convincingly from the point of view of the opposite sex.
In my latest writing project I tackled the issue head on – having multiple ‘voices’ in the book including a male character. I have to confess I was worried initially as the female characters came very easily to me – their voices (though quite different to one another) rang true and clear. Once I was about a third of the way through my first draft however I found myself thinking that something was lacking and I realized I needed to get the perspective of my lead male character. I hesitated - would I really be able to write it convincingly? Would the voice sound authentically male?
Of course that question opens up a whole range of others but fundamentally my concern was whether I could write from the point of view of a man? Was that even possible? When I asked my husband he said he thought the whole issue was a non-issue. My female characters went far beyond my own experiences or personality so why would I not be capable of moving beyond gender? He didn't seem to think it mattered whether the writer was male or female and I admit that, as a reader, I thought many writers (both male and female) have managed to write from the opposite gender perspective - but it's always different when it's your own writing!
I was worried that I would make my male character too 'soft' - a feminized ideal of a man - capable of articulating his feelings and noticing elements that quite frankly a man would not - like the color of someone's eyes or their clothes. I got about half way through my second draft and had my writing group give me feedback and they told me that my male character seemed to be a bit of a bastard. I realized that in worrying about making him too idealized I had actually succeeded in making him sound like a shit. So back I went - refining and editing the voice until finally a real person began to take shape. It took a while but I found his voice emerging and then the writing flowed so much easier. I had the character in my head now and gender no longer mattered.
But the real question is should it matter at all?? Should the gender of a writer change the way a reader perceives the POV or character in a book? Do you think it makes a difference?
Have you ever read a book and been surprised to discover the writer was a man because you had assumed it was a woman (or vice versa)? In short, does gender even matter when it comes to writing effective characters?